How ‘name, image, likeness’ rights change the game for NCAA athletes

The National Collegiate Athletic Association interim policy, as of July 1, lets more than 480,000 athletes monetize their name, image, and likeness (NIL), marking a dramatic shift for college sports. Athletes can turn their success on the field to cash by partnering with brands.

Many schools are providing brand-building education so athletes can learn how to market themselves.

Why This

Was Written

The NCAA has changed its policy to allow college athletes to make a profit from their names, images, and likeness rights. This is an important step in college sports and should be empowering student-athletes.

“Community connection is what creates the deal,” says Kamron Cox, NIL program coordinator at the University of Illinois. Cox predicts most athletes will benefit from endorsement deals with local businesses like a pizza shop or sandwich shop.

The rule change may also favor athletes who have access to established media networks and focus.

“All of the inequities, all of the power bases that are already there within the current sports world infrastructure are still going to be there,” explains Mary Jo Kane, professor emerita at University of Minnesota.

Social media, however, could open new avenues, especially for savvy brand builders.

“[Social media] is removing the gatekeeper position of mainstream media and it puts the power and control on the athletes,” says Thilo Kunkel, associate professor of sport business at Temple University.

College sport has long been a favorite of college sports fans all over the country who cheer for their favourite amateur athletes. For a long period, universities and colleges have benefited from the success of their athletes. But this year, for the first-time athletes will be able to reap the financial benefits of their successes.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) interim policy, as of July 1, lets more than 480,000 athletes monetize their name, image, and likeness (NIL), marking a dramatic shift for college sports. Athletes can turn their success on the field to cash through brand partnerships.

Why This

Was Written

The NCAA has changed its policy to allow college athletes to make a profit from their names, images, and likeness rights. This is an important step in college sports and should be empowering student-athletes.

Why now?

Whether college athletes should be compensated for their NIL rights has been debated for years. In 2009, a UCLA basketball player sued the association after his likeness was used in a video game without his permission and without payment.

Over the next decade, athletes started advocating for their publicity rights directly to state and local legislators, says Braly Keller, NIL specialist at Opendorse. He says, “Through these voices…it started to snowball.”

In 2019, California passed the Fair Pay to Play Act which allowed athletes to earn compensation for their NIL starting in 2023. Florida moved up the timeline, passing a similar bill that went into effect July 1, 2021. To avoid giving states unfair recruiting advantages, the NCAA created a new policy. However, before the bill was brought to a vote the Department of Justice flagged the draft as containing an antitrust violation. Not wanting to subject itself to further litigation after the Supreme Court ruled this summer that the NCAA violated antitrust laws by limiting non-cash, educational benefits for athletes, the NCAA implemented a bare bones interim policy with two main stipulations: athletes cannot be paid for on-field performance and schools cannot offer impermissible incentives to attend.

“We’ve seen the NCAA really turn over the keys right to the schools … giving the schools a lot more power,” says Mr. Keller.

Who benefits?

It’s not just Olympians or Heisman Trophy winners who can cash in on the rule change. There could be new opportunities for athletes in all three divisions, though the deals may vary depending on their sport and position.

Many schools are providing brand-building education so athletes can learn how to market themselves.

“Community connection is what creates the deal,” says Kamron Cox, NIL program coordinator at the University of Illinois. Cox predicts most athletes will benefit from endorsement deals with local businesses, such as partnering up with a pizza shop to attract hungry students.

The rule change may also favor athletes who have access to established media networks.

“All of the inequities, all of the power bases that are already there within the current sports world infrastructure are still going to be there,” explains Mary Jo Kane, professor emerita at University of Minnesota and founder of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport.

Social media, however, could open new avenues, especially for savvy brand builders.

“[Social media] is removing the gatekeeper position of mainstream media and it puts the power and control on the athletes,” says Thilo Kunkel, associate professor of sport business at Temple University and director of the Sport Industry Research Center.

What concerns does it introduce?

With the contours of policy left to states and schools, rules vary around university logos, prohibited categories of deals, and steps for disclosure.

Dr. Kunkel is concerned that students may get confused by the complex rules. He says, “Education does matter,” especially for athletes not considered superstars. Athletes will have the opportunity to employ marketing agents and other advisers. Others will need to balance their roles as student, athlete and businessperson.

Aside from time management, Mr. Cox believes that athletes will be able to make a better brand by ensuring students have the right tools. However, he also feels that greater community involvement is a good idea.

“Before there was a sense that a number of student athletes had some real value that was not maximized,” he says. I believe [athletes] has the potential to develop new things that will continue to be an asset for the remainder of [their] career HTML3_.

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